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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Karski and the Difficulty of Saving Anyone


Karski: How One Man Tried to Stop the Holocaust

I've been slowly reading the book "Karski, How one man tried to stop the Holocaust", by E. Thomas Wood, and the man Karski really impresses me. He did champion the cause of Jews, as well as his own Polish people, and in public and with evidence, from 1942 on. And he did his level best to get the West to do something to stop or slow the exterminations. He carried the message of Jewish leaders back to the West with suggestions such as bombing switching tracks, dropping leaflets, and similar; and the West ignored him.

No evidence is incontrovertible evidence in the hands of skeptics, and bad or doubtful friends, and his observations weren't accepted until 2 years later when Troops started knocking at the doors of the death camps with cameras and newsfilm crews and showing the world what was there. By then it was too late.

People can't say that saving Poland would have required the West to go to war again. But all it would have required would have been for the West to have spine enough to be willing to go to bat for an ally. The Allies didn't want to keep fighting after Hitler was gone beyond what would be necessary to destroy the Japanese Empire. Roosevelt wanted Russia to help him fight the Japanese. Churchill wanted to buy peace by appeasing Stalin and giving him half of Poland. Roosevelt wanted Russias entry into the war with Japan in in return for carving up part of Poland. And so Poland was considered strategically expendible. Karski tried to fight this but his bad luck was to have bad friends for allies and to be facing an almost impossible strategic situation. Poland was on the Russia physical side of Germany, and Poland was lucky that Russia didn't want to directly rule the entire country.

The Enemy of my Enemy is not really my Friend

A former enemy who is the enemy of one's enemy is maybe a temporary friend, but not likely a long term one. Such "friends" are liable to be doubtful and traitorous ones and both the Polish Communists and Russia fell in that category. Karski had an impossible task. While in Poland he gathered messages from all the factions of the Polish underground Government and carried them back to equally fractuous factions in Paris on his first trip and London on his second. Those reports told how the Communist cadres of Poles were perfectly willing to attack the Germans and blame the poles, or turn over Poles to the Germans who weren't among their ranks. The Communist rebels in Poland were more on the side of Russia than Poland. And of course Stalin wanted to regain and make permanent his land grab from when the betrayed Poland in the first place in his Ribbentrop treaty. The Poles were up against a major enemy.

Chess versus Poker

And the difficulty of dealing with this was incredible. Stalin was playing chess, and when his troops murdered Polish officers in Katyn and their other prison camps, they set it up so that they could try to blame the Germans for the Massacres. The true perpetrators of the Katyn Massacres wouldn't be revealed until the 1960's, though the Germans uncovered the bodies in 1942, and in an example of their own stone faced hypocrisy brought in an international team of forensic experts to examine the graves. The Germans claimed a diplomatic coup in accusing the Russians of mass murder (which was true). And as the author notes in the book and Wikipedia confirms:

"In April 1943 the Polish government-in-exile insisted on bringing the matter to the negotiation table with the Soviets and on opening an investigation by the International Red Cross.[48] Stalin, in response, accused the Polish government of collaborating with Nazi Germany, broke off diplomatic relations with it,[49][50] and started a campaign to get the Western Allies to recognize the alternative Polish pro-Soviet government in Moscow led by Wanda Wasilewska."

So Karski's efforts to get the West to champion Poland, only provided Stalin with an excuse to make official his existing war aims (seizing Polish Territory) and also gave an excuse for the West to decapitate the Polish Government in exile (some believe that the death of the Polish leader in exile, Sikorsky, wasn't a complete accident).

Doubtful Allies

And it got worse for Karski. Karski had to work with the American Right to try to convince Roosevelt to back his countries issues. He had to work with Poles who were at each other's throats. And the Polish underground had to work with Polish Communists who took every opportunity to undermine and setup their compatriots rather than working with them. He was trying to convince the USA government to support the Polish cause, and he made friends with Roosevelts advisors on the right such as Elbridge Durbrow and William C. Bullitt. Bullitt was willing to champion his causes, but Bullitt had launched a very personal and public attack on one of Roosevelt's closest advisors, Sumner Welles, for being a Homosexual, and managed to discredit himself around the same time he started to champion Karski's cause. Eventually Bullitt would be a hero among right wing circles, but Bullitt lost all influence on FDR because of this. And Jan Karski met personally with FDR, who was impressed by him, and unfortunately it didn't do much for the Poles. The USA was not going to go to war for Poland against Russia. And nobody was going to save the Jews. One has to be careful with ones friends as much as with ones enemies.

Eventually the Russians came in. Told Warsaw to revolt. Delayed their capture of Warsaw long enough to make sure the Germans crushed them. Killed or imprisoned most of the pro-West Polish Government. Installed a Communist Government. Took the eastern part of the country. Kicked the Germans out of what had been the Eastern Part of Germany, and moved the borders around to what they are now. Karsky had an after the war career as an anti-communist, pro-Jewish, historian and professor at Georgetown. My copy of his biography is autographed, not by the author but him. He died in 2000. I think I stood in line with my wife for that signing, he was a real hero.

Best thing to do is to read the two books; one by him, and the other by E. Thomas Wood.

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